The cloud versus the taxi cab

The cloud is an uncertain place to keep your data, but it can also protect the data you left on the subway.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is on the record with his concerns about mass adoption of The Cloud. If we all keep our data on corporate servers, the things that can go wrong are massive and horrendous, the argument goes. As if to give Wozniak an anecdotal example, web writer Mat Honan watched as his entire cloud life was destroyed and defaced.

There are lots of lessons and next steps to take away from Honan’s experience and Wozniak’s warnings. Keep a local copy of everything you keep in the cloud, for one. Don’t ever answer security questions (i.e. password recovery questions) in a straightforward manner, because they’re seriously weak. And don’t ever use the same password on two different services. But all those are measures aimed at preventing destruction and unauthorized access of your cloud-based data. There’s still the matter of what the companies receiving your uploads do with the data you give them. And there’s the simple fact that almost everybody is going to lose a computer-like gadget at some point. That includes you.

As compiled by gadget recovery service Micro-Trax, the lost gadget statistics are not in anybody’s favor. Taxi cabs, airports, and transit systems take in hundreds of devices every day, never to be claimed or found. That’s partly because it is very hard to recover phones from municipal transportation systems, even in a city like New York, a city you might think would have a whole sub-economy dealing with hastily forgotten objects by now. But people leave their stuff around, and then stuff gets into somebody else’s hands, and then their entire cloud is available to somebody else.

Sure, some number of smartphone, laptop, and tablet owners use passcodes to protect their stuff, and hopefully match them with encryption schemes. But the most popular passcodes are rather dumb, even among people who downloaded a specialty security app like Big Brother for iPhone. There will always be a tension between high security and real convenience. But you can see why the all-in-one iCloud system that ultimately failed Mat Honan is so appealing. If he left his phone, iPad, or MacBook Air in a cab, it could have been located, or at least locked down and wiped at his command: object value possibly lost, but security and privacy restored, and feeling of control over all one’s stuff maintained. Unfortunately, Apple wanted to make resetting an iCloud password really convenient for someone who called about it, and Honan’s security system was turned against him.

All that is to say that the worst-case-scenario Cloud is a scary place, but it’s also the best defense we have against taxi cabs, airports, and pants pockets that release objects in angled seats. Personal clouds—home-based servers, remote racks you control, things of that sort—are still offered, and might make good sense for those who have the wherewithal to manage their own server. But there will always be that decision between having your stuff everywhere and wanting to find your stuff anywhere. It’s a tough choice.

Photo by Mr Wabu

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